The Role of Love in Open Relationships

Quite often, open relationships are confused with hedonism. The misconception is that people enter into open relationships because they are afraid of love and responsibility; the false insinuation here is that love and responsibility are exclusive to monogamous relationships.

The word “love” is very often conflated with its traditional usage. That is to say, “love” is a word that is usually associated with traditional pair-bonding monogamous relationships. However, love is far more open-ended than this.

For instance, when we are pursuing a career or a goal that we have, we very often might say that we do so because we either love the goal or the process towards that goal; or both! For instance, I deeply love to write.

This isn’t just blind speculation either. The psychological literature on the topic of polyamory indicates that not only is love involved in polyamory, but it is the salient factor in ensuring that an open relationship is successful. Fundamentally, however, just like any form of love the key to a successful loving arrangement is open and honest communication. When this factor is in play, according to the psychologist Deborah Anapol, there isn’t any difference in relationship success between polyamorous and monogamous relationships. Hence, the role of love in monogamy versus polyamory isn’t very different. Love, at bottom, is to be had through radical transparency and vulnerability. Anything less is to cheapen the notion of love because anything less is an a priori acceptance of love to fail within the context of the relationship. One of the greatest –and most terrifying– aspects of love is that the mask is off and you can be yourself around your partner[s]. When this element is gone, at least one party will grow resentful and the relationship will inevitably dissolve or become toxic.

If the factor of success is the same –i.e. Transparent communication of both feelings and thoughts between all parties– than polyamory should not be given the connotation of being loveless or simply hedonistic. It is simply the same feeling, but with multiple people. The intimate love of monogamy is the same as the love in polyamory: it is just that you are capable of having it with many people. Love isn’t always as simple as the idealistic notion of “soul mates.” For many, individuals can be capable of having the same level of intensity in love for many people. The importance here, though, is that such love is made apparent to all parties and that all parties consent to acting upon such love. In this line of thought –which I find valid, in light of the psychological data— it is absurd to consider polyamory a lesser form of love than monogamy. Indeed, the way love manifests in both forms of relationships is virtually the same: it is just that in an open relationship, this love is with more than one person.

Part of why transparency is so fundamental to the success of open relationships is in part to weed out those who are not really capable of an open relationship. For instance, one might think that they desire an open relationship. But once they are in one, they might begin to experience feelings of jealousy. To keep such feelings to oneself is a route to growing resentful of your multiple partners and to have such resentment taint the relationship itself. Even if you have consented to an open relationship, these feelings might still arise. Hence, in expressing your jealousy, you save other’s time and investment in you, because it helps all parties realize that you are simply not suited for polyamory –which is okay! It’s really just a matter of being capable of expressing your feelings. One can even say the same in monogamy: if you’re in a monogamous relationship and you feel perpetually jealous, maybe its time to express that, and maybe such feelings are an indication that you’re not ready for that relationship or it is just not working out very well. As, again, if you keep such bad feelings to yourself, the relationship will dissolve or become toxic. This is what the Swiss psychologist Carl Jung called a “psychological relationship.” Any type of relationship structure that is a psychological one will be successful, monogamous, or polyamorous. Love really is stabilized and brought into the long-term by radical transparency. Love in polyamory requires such transparency. If you express your feelings and ensure that everyone involved is consenting, the love involved in polyamory will be of profound meaning to all involved.

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